Aberdeen is a seaport on the north-east coast of Scotland. Lying between the mouths of the Don and the Dee (its name means "mouth of the Dee" in Gaelic). It was initially established by the Romans but it was the Normans who exploited its potential as a port. By the end of the 13th century it was sending fish, wool, hides and timber to other parts of Britain and across the North Sea to Europe.

The city developed from two separate settlements. One known as Old Aberdeen, grew up around St Machar's Cathedral in the north. The other district, commercial Aberdeen, developed in the south, round the harbour on the Dee. Two of the earliest houses, Provost Skerne's House (1545) and Provost Ross House (1595) are now museums.

After the successes of the Stockton & Darlington and the Liverpool & Manchester lines, Aberdeen merchants began to consider the possibility of building a railway. Under the chairmanship of Thomas Blaikie, the prospectus of the Aberdeen Railway was issued in 1844. Work began in 1845 but there were serious engineering problems. This included the collapse of three arches of a viaduct being built in the town. As a result of these technical difficulties, the railway was not opened until April 1850.

The railway line was a great economic success. Whereas the steamship had permitted trade in live cattle to England, the greater speed of the railway enabled dead meat to be transported. Overnight fish trains from Aberdeen to Billingsgate in London was another important development.

By the 19th century Aberdeen, also known as 'granite city' after the stone of which it is largely built, was Scotland's largest fishing port. Aberdeen University was formed in 1860 by the merging of King's College (1494) and Marischal College (1593).

The Aberdeen Art Gallery was founded in 1885. Fifteen years later, Alexander Macdonald, bequeathed his collection and a large sum of money with the proviso that it must be spent on paintings not more than 25 years years old. As a result the gallery contains an excellent collection of 20th century paintings.

Primary Sources

(1) Daniel Defoe, A Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain (1724)

Aberdeen is divided into two towns or cities, and stands in the mouth of two rivers; one on the River Don, the other on the River Dee. The market-place, which is very beautiful and spacious; and the streets adjoining are very handsome and well built, the houses lofty and high.

The profits from salmon fishing are very considerable, for the quantity of fish taken is exceedingly great, and they are sent abroad into several parts of the world. Herring fishing is also a common blessing to all those living on this coast.

They also have a very good manufacture of linen, and also of worsted stockings, which they send to England in great quantities, and of which they make some so fine, that I have seen them sold for twenty shillings a pair.